The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism ("The Atom-as-God")

Dave Armstrong and Eric Smallwood (

Eric Smallwood is an evangelical Protestant apologist with philosophical background, who was also subscribed to the atheist Internet list which "inspired" this paper. His words will be in blue.

Atheists constantly tell us that "the knockout [scientific] proof of atheism just around the corner." We've heard this grandiose claim for almost 150 years, about, e.g., (1) the origin of life, (2) the origin of DNA, (3) all the missing links, and (4) extraterrestrial life. Now it is asserted that cosmology and the beginning of the universe will be soon explained comfortably under atheist assumptions, just like all the other things above have been (???).

Many counter-replies could be given, of course, such as: How did gravity and quantum mechanics and natural selection come to be in the first place? They still derive from the Big Bang. How did they evolve? And what remarkable potentialities were present in the Big Bang itself to make such a thing occur? What do "most nontheists" believe about how the universe came to be, and about its seeming "design"?

Well-known cosmologist Stephen Hawking feels "that the beginning of the universe should be governed by the same laws that held at other times." Well, he can have this predisposition all he wants, but that is not science; rather, it is the bias he brings to his science, and a mental process which has been much written-about by scientific observers / philosophers of science such as Steven Jay Gould and Thomas Kuhn.

When someone (even a scientist) says that "God caused the Big Bang," I agree that that is not a scientific statement, but by the same token, when Hawking and others want to apply uniformitarianism to the Big Bang, and even "before" it, with no empirical evidence whatever for such a claim, then they are not doing science either, but rather, expressing their arbitrary metaphysical preferences. Hawking's god, then, is uniformitarianism and the potentiality of matter to do anything and everything with no Ultimate Design superintending it. This is yet another axiom held in faith. It can't be proven to hold everywhere and at all times, before and after the Big Bang, etc.

Atheists are currently denying that what they believe about the actions of matter in a universe without God is "pure chance" or "randomly colliding atoms," as their earlier forebears might have boldly and proudly described it. Logical positivism is now decidedly out of fashion. But this is ultimately only semantics and avoidance of the relevant philosophical issues. Natural "laws" (themselves metaphysical abstractions in a large sense, even though they have to do with matter) still have to attain their remarkable organizing abilities at some point. One either explains them by natural laws or by humbly bowing to divine teleology at some point as an explanation every bit as plausible as a scenario which boils down to materialism any way you cut the cake (everything is explained by material processes).

Matter becomes god in the atheist/materialist/naturalist view, as far as I am concerned, and this is patently obvious, because in the godless universe, matter has the inherent power to do everything by itself, which Christians believe God caused, by putting these potentialities and actual characteristics into matter and natural laws, being their ultimate Creator and even Ongoing Preserver and Sustainer.

Quite obviously, then, since all these marvels which we observe in the universe are attributed to matter, just as we attribute the same capacities and designs to God's creative power, from our perspective, matter is the atheist's god, in which he places extraordinary faith; more faith even than we place in God, because it is far more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone. Yet atheists manage to believe this anyway because they refuse to acknowledge a God behind all the Design. Indeed, this is faith of the most un-rational, childlike kind. It is quite humorous, then, to observe the constant charge that we Christians have the blind, childlike, gullible, fideistic faith, rather than "rational, intellectual, sophisticated" atheists who possess it in far greater measure.

Such belief is, in effect and in substance, closely-examined, a kind of poytheistic idolatry of the crudest, most primitive sort, which puts to shame the pagan worship and incredulities of the ancient Babylonians, Philistines, Aztecs, and other primitive groups. They believed that their silver amulets and wooden idols could make the sun shine or defeat an enemy or cause crops to flourish. The polytheistic materialist is far, far more religious than that: he thinks that trillions of his Atom-gods and their distant relatives, the Cell-gods, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, of their own power, possessed eternally either in full or in inevitably-unfolding potentiality.

One might call this (to coin a phrase) Deo-Atomism ("belief that the Atom is God"). The omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, ubiquitous (if not omnipresent) Atom (especially trillions of them) can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason which we can understand (i.e., why and how the Atom-God came to possess such powers in the first place). The Deo-Atomist worships his trillions of gods unreservedly, with the most perfect, trusting, non-rational faith imaginable. He is what sociologists call a "true believer."

Oh, and we mustn't forget the Time-goddess as well. She is often invoked in worshipful, reverential, awe-inspiring terms as the be-all, end-all explanation for things inexplicable, as if by magic her very incantation rises to an explanatory level sufficient to shut up any silly Christian, who is foolish enough to believe in one God rather than trillions. The Time-goddess might be said to be the highest in the ranks of the Deo-Atomist's wonderfully-varied hierarchy of gods, since she is one, rather than trillions (sort of the "Zeus" of Deo-Atomism). One might call this belief Deo-Temporalism.

Deo-Atomism is a strong, fortress-like faith. It is often said that it "must be" what it is. How is this at all different from monotheism, where certain things are taken for granted as basic beliefs? There is no epistemological difference. The atheist's and materialist's or positivist's or naturalist's  religion is Deo-Atomism; mine is theistic Christianity. Matter is their god; a Creator Spirit God is mine. The Deo-Atomist simply reverses the error of the Gnostics. They thought spirit was great and that matter was evil. Deo-Atomists think matter is great (and god) and spirit is not only "evil" (metaphorically-speaking),  but beyond that: non-existent. In a certain remote sense, on one level, the Christian reacts to such profound religious belief with the thought, "Who am I to endanger by rational argument such a sublime fideism and Absolute Trust in a Teleological Argument vis-a-vis trillions of Atom-gods? I can only stand in awe of such Pure Faith."

Deo-Atomists may and do differ on secondary issues, just as the various ancient polytheistic cultures differed on quibbling details (which god could do what, which material made for a better idol, etc.), but despite all, they inevitably came out on the side of polytheistic idolatry, with crude material gods, and against spiritual monotheism.

Some Deo-Atomist utterances even have the "ring" of Scriptures, such as an appropriate humility urged in man's opinion of his own importance, because the universe is so large, and we are so small, as if material or spatial largeness itself is some sort of inherently God-like quality. One Deo-Atomist told me that "order is in the eye of the beholder." That reminded me of the biblical Proverbs (perhaps he was the Deo-Atomist equivalent of Solomon).

Of course, in Deo-Atomism, each person is gods too, because he is made up of trillions of Atom-gods and also lots of Cell-gods, so there are lots of gods there indeed! When you get trillions of gods all together in one place, it stands to reason that they can corporately perceive the order of which any one of them individually is capable of producing. So within the Deo-Atomist faith-paradigm, this make perfect sense. But for one outside their circle of religious faith, it may not (just to warn the devout, faithful Deo-Atomist that others of different faiths may not think such things as "obvious" as they do). The Deo-Atomist manages to believe any number of things, in faith, without mere explanation.

In other words, the "why" questions in the context of Deo-Atomism are in and of themselves "senseless." And the reason why that is (i.e., for the Deo-Atomist), is because the question impinges upon the Impenetrable Fortress of blind faith that the Deo-Atomist possesses. If the question of "Why does God exist?" is senseless, then it follows straightforwardly that likewise, the question, "Why do the Atom-gods and Cell-gods and the Time-goddess exist and eternally possess the extraordinary powers that they do?" is senseless, meaningless and oughtn't be put forth. One simply doesn't ask such questions. It is bad form, and impolite in mixed company. We know how sensitive overly-religious folk are.

Instead, we are asked to bow to the countless mysteries of Deo-Atomism in humble adoration and awed silence, dumbstruck, like the Magi at the baby Jesus' manger, offering our "scientific" and "philosophical" allegiance like they offered gold and frankincense and myrhh. The very inquiry is senseless and "intrusive." And so rational examination is precluded at and from the outset. It is, indeed, an ingenious, self-contained system: hopelessly irrational and self-defeating; ultimately incoherent, of course, but ingenious and admirable in its bold, brilliant intellectual audacity and innovation, if nothing else. In other words, it is an immensely enjoyable game to play, like much of modern philosophy-cum-religion.

Evolutionary mutations as Teleology offer a particular example of this particular religiosity; akin to the Christian Divine Providence. Occasionally, it is true, a mutation (99.999% of the time harmful) is beneficial to the organism. Thus, a mistake in a process that is almost always a mistake is the "stuff" and mechanism and cause of the "progress" of evolution. The entire spectrum of biological diversity and evolution begins in such a causal fashion. This is the Deo-Atomist teleology, and an amazing and faith-filled one it is, as always. Deo-Atomism might go by many names, but when the rubber meets the road, it is all pretty much the same: Boundless Faith in Matter-gods, Cell-gods, and the Time-Goddess.

As an example of a devout, pious Deo-Atomist believer, consider Stephen Hawking:

"It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics," he told an audience, which included Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees. "Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 40 years and I'm happy if I have made a small contribution. I want to share my excitement and enthusiasm."

He added: "Based on the no boundary proposal, I picture the origin of the universe as like the formation of bubbles of steam in boiling water. "Quantum fluctuations lead to the spontaneous creation of tiny universes out of nothing. Most of the universes collapse to nothing, but a few that reach a critical size will expand in an inflationary manner and will form galaxies and stars and maybe beings like us."

Hawking's words constitute a fine statement of the pure faith of what I have been calling Deo-Atomism. But what is the cosmic analogy to water in his boiling water scenario? And if universes come from nothing, how is that not absurd and not unthinkable? What is his empirical proof for such a scenario? By what observation did he arrive at this?

Hawking believes his bubble universe scenario with, admittedly, no direct scientific evidence (it is merely coherent with other of his beliefs), and no way to explain it step-by-step in any compelling matter. It is entirely tentative. So he is exercising the blind faith of Deo-Atomism. Christians don't claim to have exhaustive explanations for every process we believe in. But it ain't required because religious faith is not science.

I find it exceedingly humorous that many scientists and atheists (many, Deo-Atomists) are so concerned about separating religion and science (to the extent that science would literally die if a miracle were acknowledged by a scientist AS a scientist), yet when it comes to something clearly within the religious, theological, supernatural realm (a purported miracle), they continue to demand scientific explanation as if they have forgotten all about their strenuous, Chicken Little attempts to separate science from God and theology altogether!

I won't bow to this double standard. It is simply one more strain of the religion of scientism, which is a crucial component and aspect of Deo-Atomism. I don't worship science or the atom or my own brain. I worship God. And if God didn't possess some attributes I didn't fully understand or comprehend, I submit that He wouldn't be God. That would simply be an idol that I created, that I completely understand, as it is no higher than what I can conceive it to be: a "God" made in man's image, rather than vice versa.

If materialist scientists would like to take back their position on science vs. miracles (an absolute dichotomy), then we can (at least attempt to) offer scientific explanations of every miraculous occurrence, as Christianity and science would then comprise one grand, unified theory of nature.
Until then, Deo-Atomists ought to stop asking for scientific explanations in the name of theology, when they can't even give scientific explanations (pertaining to origins and teleology) in the name of naturalistic science for many of their beliefs, yet simultaneously claim that this is not merely a matter of religious or metaphysical belief, and that any other alternative religious/metaphysical belief (namely, theism and creation) is impermissible as unscientific. Take the beam out of thine own eye. Metaphysician; heal thyself . . .

 Indeed. This is equivalent to accepting an incoherent idea (some-thing
 'from' no-thing) solely on the basis that Hawking said so. Although Hawking
 is a respected physicist, this does not mean that each and every subject he
 speaks about regarding physics is necessarily true or possible or coherent.

 A snippet (quoted in another book) from Hawking, A Brief History of Time:

I'd like to emphasize that this idea, that time and space should be  finite without boundary, is just a proposal: it cannot be deduced from some other principle. Like any other scientific theory, it may initially be put forward for aesthetic or metaphysical reasons, but the real test is whether it makes predictions that agree with observation.
I don't see how it might not be said that Hawking is making a false statement by offering that his proposal (which is not deduced from some other principle and the implication is that it has a metaphysical foundation) is to be called a "scientific theory." It seems to me that Hawking is assuming that the subject matter of the proposal qualifies it as being a scientific theory.

 Inventing a concept, such as 'imaginary time', assuming that it is a
 credible idea, and utilizing it as a foundational principle in a theory
 doesn't guarantee that the idea or the theory is actually coherent or

 This idea of testing a theory by prediction and observation can be tenuous,
 because this brings up the possibility of catering the theory to the data,
 and assuming that a proposed cause is indeed a cause for an effect, when
 that actual causal relationship hasn't been observed (such as the proverbial
 rooster crow and the rise of the sun).

 Hawking's theory is designed to explain the mechanics of the origin of the universe. A God hypothesis isn't designed to do this. So, to say that Hawking's theory is "much better" is to confuse the issue. Also, if a theory is "mathematically consistent," and yet is based on an incoherent premise, this is hardly an 'advantage'.

The underlying reasoning, in my opinion, for both theories involves a basic
Kalam Cosmological Argument, where the concept of cause and effect is
interpolated backwards to an ultimate cause for the natural universe, and that causeis reasoned to be or to involve an other than natural reality. That cause is eitherimpersonal or personal. A God hypothesis (GH) proposes that the cause is a personal agent, while Hawking's hypothesis (HH) proposes that the cause is impersonal quantum fluctuation and imaginary time. GH doesn't simply propose a personalagent rather it reasons that an impersonal cause is either impossible or
 implausible. HH merely assumes an impersonal cause 'not' because of arguing
 that a personal cause is impossible or implausible, but because of having
 merely assumed that it's not a viable option.

 In other words,

 Either A or B

 GH: Not B, therefore A
 HH: B

 At this point, both hypotheses are dealing with philosophical reasoning
 regarding metaphysical concepts. They aren't dealing with scientific
 mechanics of universe production. HH attempts to attach an explanation of
 the mechanics 'after' the metaphysical starting point has been assumed.

 I didn't say that HH was based on an incoherent proposition. I said
 that IF a hypothesis is based on an incoherent proposition, then it can
 hardly be deemed a 'better' hypothesis. HH merely assumes that quantum
 fluctuation plus imaginary time can produce an entire universe, and once
 'that' assumption is in place, it leaves the situation open for him to
 propose that multiple universes can be produced like popcorn. But he hasn't
 substantiated his initial assumptions (he hasn't shown that they 'are'
 coherent and plausible, he hasn't shown how/why those states of affairs
 would exist in the first place), and he in essence admits this by offering
 that it is grounded in a metaphysical idea.

A theory that speaks of how things operate is a different theory from a theory concerning the foundation by which anything came to exist in order to operate. There isn't any 'onus' on a theist to somehow refute Hawking's theory or to try to prove that a God hypothesis has an "explanatory advantage." A God hypothesis doesn't explain the mechanics of creation, but neither does it rule out discovering those mechanics through the use of theories such as Hawking's.

 I think it's simply special pleading to just accept Hawking's ideas of
 imaginary time and some-things arising 'from' no-thing, based on the fact
 that he takes these unverified assumptions and couches them in a theory to
 explain the universe apart from God. GH might require HH to offer some sort of substantiation for its metaphysical starting point, instead of merely assuming it.

 Suppose a personal deity creates a state of quantum factors where
 fluctuations can offer as a part of the 'natural order' by which that state
 of affairs was designed to exist. If within that state of affairs some
 physical X can be produced, does pointing to the production of X rule out
 the existence of the personal deity? No. Does pointing to the production of
 X explain the existence of the state of quantum factors and it natural
 order? No. Does pointing to the production of X prove that the state of
 quantum factors could just happen to exist and that its natural order could
 just happen to exist or could somehow have existed forever or could have
 existed according to some imaginary time? No. Does pointing to the
 production of X prove that the quantum factors could produce an entire
 universe? No. Does pointing to a theory about 'virtual' X's prove that any
 'actual' X could be the case? No.

 But there is no necessity in attempting to disprove HH because it doesn't by
 necessity exclude GH.

 The problem isn't with confusing 'imaginary' with 'imagination' (although
 Hawking himself appears to open this door, "the so-called imaginary time is
 really the real time, and that what we call real time is just a figment of
 our imaginations"). The problem is with referring to a concept that is
 completely distinct from what is observed, and is unverifiable, and yet
 relying upon that concept to explain what is observed. If Hawking is allowed
 to propose a concept completely distinct from the observed state of the
 universe as a means of ultimately explaining the universe, then the
 non-theist who accepts Hawking's assumption loses any ground for arguing
 against a basic Kalam Cosmological Argument, for it contains the very same concept.

And how solid, how scientific, how empirical and observable, is the proof of a non-theistically-imagined "Big Bang"? Surfing the Internet, I found an "Ask the Space Scientist" page (Dr. Sten Odenwald [Raytheon STX] of the NASA IMAGE/POETRY Education and Public Outreach program). The answers given to various questions are quite illustrative of the Profound Faith that a Deo-Atomist would be required to have in his own brand of creation-without-god:


What sort of quantum field could possibly have triggered the Big Bang out
of nothingness?

We have no idea. And certainly not one that we can examine and test to confirm the
theoretical expectations. The best we can say is that the fundamental field in nature is the gravitational field, and out of this and its weird quantum properties, the stage was somehow set for everything else we can identify in the physical world. We do not, however, understand what the gravitational field 'IS' in any real fundamental way. We know how it OPERATES but that is not the same as understanding its actual nature.

Is there any physical explanation for the Big Bang itself?

There are many hypotheses about what these conditions may have been like, but
absolutely no facts or evidence that confirms that the theoretical BASIS for these
speculations is on the money. We cannot observe/re-create the Big Bang itself, but we can hope to test our understanding of high energy physics UP TO the extreme conditions that were a part of the physics of the Big Bang. So far, these physics are at 10^19 GeV and we can only test our theories at energies of a few 1000 GeV.

How could laws have been created AFTER the big bang if the universe
started out as a 'fluctuation' of some kind?

Well...first of all we have no self-consistent theory of gravity which can predict in a
meaningful way what these initial conditions were like .This requires understanding
gravity as a quantum field, and we only have prototype theories for how to do this. At least mathematically, physicists have created 'toy' universes that start out so hot that even the 'laws' of special relativity are not manifest in the way the fields interact.

Curiously, as these toy models are in the expansion of the universe...the
underlying principles behind special relativity, particularly Lorentz Invariance, begin to materialize in the kinds of correlations that begin to appear. If you can believe 'chaotic gauge theory' as it is called, some or perhaps even all, of the known physical laws are emergent features of nature that are not present initially provided the universe emerges from a very hot state. Quantum fluctuations are, at their root, completely a-causal, in the sense that cause and effect and ordering of events in time is not a part of how these fluctuations work. Because of this, there seem not to be any correlations built into these kinds of fluctuations because 'law' as we understand the term requires some kind of cause-and-effect structure to pre- exist.

Quantum fluctuations can precede physical law, but it seems that the converse is not true. So in the big bang, the establishment of 'law' came after the event itself, but of course even the concept of time and causality may not have been quite the same back then as they are now.

Where does space come from?

This is a very complicated question to answer...and frankly we do not yet fully understand how to answer it. According to Einstein's General Relativity, which is our premier way of explaining how gravity works, it makes no formal distinction between the description of what a gravitational field is, and what space-time is. Essentially, space is what we refer to as 3 of the 4 dimensions to a more comprehensive entity called the space-time continuum, and this continuum is itself just another name for the gravitational field of the universe. If you take away this gravitational itself vanishes! To ask where space comes from is the same as asking, according to general relativity, where this gravitational field came from originally, and that gets us to asking what were the circumstances that caused the Big Bang itself. We don't really know.

If the Big Bang happened again, would we end up with the same natural

We absolutely positively have not the slightest idea, nor a single way to test such a
proposition. Some physicists say that every imaginable combination of physical law is
manifested by some universe 'out there', or that our universe may get reprocessed
if/when it recollapses, into a new universe with completely different selections of
dimensionality and particle types and forces. We just don't know. It is hard to imagine that science will ever be able to tell us about such things which are literally beyond ourtime and space.

Where did the ball of particles come from that started the Big Bang?

No one really knows how to describe this event, its physical properties, or its evolution. We don't even know how to scientifically test the many mathematical possibilities!

In closing, I shall cite two more Deo-Atomist religious utterances, followed by three more coherent alternatives, from scientists:
So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose that it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?
(Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time [London: Bantam, 1988], 140-41)

The only way of explaining the creation is to show that the creator had absolutely no job at all to do, and so might as well not have existed.

(P.W. Atkins, [Oxford chemist] The Creation [Oxford: Freeman, 1981], 17)

On the quantum fluctuation hypothesis, the universe will only come into being if there exists an exactly balanced array of fundamental forces, an exactly specified probability of particular fluctuations occurring in this array, and existent space-time in which fluctuations can occur. This is a very complex and finely tuned ‘nothing’... So this universe looks highly contingent after all, and a creator God might well choose to create a partly probabilistic universe by choosing just such an origin for it.

(Keith Ward, God, Chance and Necessity [(Oxford: Oneworld, 1996], 40)

Is it easier to believe in a cosmic designer than the multiplicity of universes necessary for the weak anthropic principle to work? ... Perhaps future developments in science will lead to more direct evidence for other universes, but until then, the seemingly miraculous concurrence of numerical values that nature has assigned to her fundamental constants must remain the most compelling     evidence for an element of cosmic design.

(Paul Davies, God and the New Physics [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984], 189)

There are ... certain givens about our universe ... which play an important part in determining its history... quite small variations in any of these fundamental specifications of our world would have rendered it anthropically sterile. They would have condemned it to a boringly unproductive history... If we accept this view, then a meta-question arises of why things are this way...

. . . the ‘Moderate Anthropic Principle’, which notes the contingent fruitfulness of the universe as a fact of interest calling for an explanation... There seems to be the chance of a revised and revived argument from design... appealing to a Cosmic Planner who has endowed his world with a     potentiality implanted within the delicate balance of the laws of nature themselves...In short, the claim would be that the universe is indeed not ‘any old world’ but the carefully calculated construct of its Creator.

(Sir John Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality [London: SPCK,1991], 77-78)

See also the related papers (which more-or-less continue the same type of discussion):
Dialogue With an Atheist on Logical Positivism, and the Existence and Cause (or No Cause) of the Universe  (Dave Armstrong vs. Steve Conifer)

Dialogue With an Atheist on the Premises and Axioms of Atheism (Dave Armstrong vs. Steve Conifer)

Reflections on Miracles, Natural Scientific Laws, and the Supernatural  (Dave Armstrong )

Dialogue With an Atheist Philosophy Professor on the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's Existence and its Possible Alternatives (Dave Armstrong vs. Dr.Ted Drange)

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Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 14 January 2002.